Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Oy Vey

I would like, if I may, take you on a strange journey.
HOW STRANGE? you shout with your water pistols aimed.
Strange enough that back when George Bush was still in office, I watched the trailer for The Unborn in a crowded Friday night movie theater and said to my ticket buddy, “Am I crazy, or does that look kind of good?”
Ahhhh, the folly of youth! I knew then that what I was seeing in a 2 minute, heavily edited preview was by far the best moments this Platinum Dunes film had to offer. Still, I was mildly intrigued to the point that a year and library card swipe later, The Unborn somehow ended up in my DVD player. 

I suppose we've learned that sometimes, the library is not necessarily our friend.
Quick Plot: Meet Casey (Odette Yustman), a rich young college student who should really eat more. Such a chore is difficult, however, when upon cracking some cholesterol-loaded eggs, strange thorax-heavy potato bugs spring free. 

Couple this with an earlier dream involving a mask-wearing dog, buried bottled fetus, and blue-eyed child dressed in Holocaust duds and you’ve got a fragile woman in typical stalked-by-dybbuks mode.
Turns out, Casey was formerly a twin who unceremoniously strangled her brother in the womb with her umbilical cord. Badass, right? Not really, since all Yustman can do throughout the film is look sad and/or cute in underwear. You would think a character with a parents played by the utterly awesome James Remar and Carla Gugino would at least have some spark of personality, but that’s asking an awful lot from a movie too busy drenching itself in blue, musical cues carefully timed for jump scares (and thusly negating said jump scare), and lazily researched Jewish mythology.
See, Casey is being haunted/stalked by a dybbuk, an evil entity described in Hebrew lore as a wandering soul that attaches itself to humans. For Casey, this in an inherited problem akin to baldness, something grandmother and mother faced with varying results (Grandma kicked its ass in a concentration camp; Mama hung herself in failure).  The side effects are varied: yes, it seems to be driving those around her insane and homicidal (poor babysitting charge and sassy friend that hates old people) but it also means that Casey gets to sport snappy blue contacts and use an oversized bathroom at a busy club all by herself! When does that ever happen?!

The bathroom scene is important to note because it pretty much encompasses the limitations of The Unborn in 3 minutes. As Casey embraces a sparkling stainless steel toilet to vomit away (hmmmm...I wonder what THAT can mean), an icky mixture of brown fluid and insects starts to take over the ladies room. The lighting goes all strobe, the music gets intense, and poor pretty Casey screams. For a brief moment, it’s actually effective and then we realize--well before it happens--that the scene is bound to end with her bland boyfriend opening the door to the lights back on, floors cleaner than Joan Crawford’s tile, and Casey crunched in the corner wondering where all the CGI went. 
And that’s The Unborn in a nutshell, a film with some intriguing imagery and ambitious story ideas squished into a modern formula of J-horror makeovers with watered down American soda. I didn’t mention Gary Oldman, who enters late in the tale to exhaustively play a rabbi with a lot of free time on his hands. I should give a quick shout-out to Stringer Bell (yes I know his name is Idris Elba and no, I will still never refer to him, nor any actor formerly of The Wire, as anything but their Baltimore name) playing a kind, if irresponsible priest. I was happy to see C.S. Lee (Remar’s Dexter costar) as an optometrist. I like that the dybbuk’s name “Jumby” summoned all sorts of imagination in me picturing Pee-Wee’s pal Jambi trying to reborn in Yustman’s womb. That made me happy enough.

Yup. That’s about it.
High Points
Thought it doesn’t give us any context and therefore ultimately falls flat, the opening dream sequence is rather promising in its use of surreal imagery

Low Points
Yes, men and women of particular persuasions will find something to admire in Yustman’s model look, but the rest of us search fruitlessly for any iota of reason to actually care about what happens to her. It’s not so much the acting as it is the fact that the character has no defining characteristics to make her likable or existent

Lessons Learned
Stroke victims are surprisingly spry when possessed by Jewish demons

Windchimes chiming are a sign that a dubbuk is near. They're also a sign that it’s windy

While this has nothing to do with any plot point and ultimately has no consequence, I still think it’s a bad idea to go to sleep with your expensive Mac book at the foot of your bed

The best way to unite all faiths and end religious war is to hold an exorcism

Eh. As hard as I’m being on The Unborn, it was at least a mildly original entry into the “The U-” craze of horror earlier this year. There are some vaguely interesting visuals at work, but this is still a rather dull barely-there footprint in theatrical American horror. Catch it on cable or with a few good drinks. In the right altered state, I can see the sight of one of this era’s best actor wearing a yarmulke and blowing into a sparkly Vegas-style religious didgeridoo being a much better time.


  1. Don't be fooled. I would pay damn good Money to see a movie entitled The Adventures Of Middle Aged Demon Killun Rabbi Oldman"

    But he's in it twenty minutes tops.

  2. "The best way to unite all faiths and end religious war is to hold an exorcism"

    Sweet! I have a religious war going on between my employees in the real, so this solves everything! THANKS!

    (And of course, great review.)

  3. Dear bubalahs, I do love your comments!

    Mike: My first go-to for world peace is always Neil Patrick Harris, second being bulldog puppies, and third is totally an interfaith exorcisim. Just remember to be the dude reading the Hebrew or the person possessed, because all others are fodder for quick kills.

    Damocles: Do heed the warning of Bryce. Rabbi Oldman isn't quite as kickass as Father Gabriel Byrne in Stigmata.

    And while I have the attention of three fine gentlemen, can I solicit your thoughts on the hilarious poster art involving an ever so slight wedgie?

  4. Since 9 times out of 10 I am mildly intoxicated (intoxicating?), and I have this recorded on my DVR, I just might give it a shot. L' chaim!

  5. Aww I actually kind of liked this one. Caught it at the theater, but I haven't watched it since then. I did pick it up on the cheap though, so have it on DVD now. Who knows, maybe after the second time watching it I may not like it as much.

    I'm weird that way sometimes though. There are movies that everyone seems to hate that I feel wasn't so bad. Not saying I loved it, but didn't feel it was as bad as a lot of people put it out to be.

  6. PoT, I imagine you're quite intoxicating when you're intoxicated. I'll be curious to hear your thoughts, with or sans inebriation.

    I hear ya Heather. I often get annoyed by the mass hatred hurled towards films I like well enough, which then in turn makes me a warrior for their cause (re: my constant defense of the Saw series or, as Cortez could tell you, my cause to save the Nightmare on Elm Street remake from chiding). Good on you for enjoying what you do, and not being afraid to say so. The Unborn didn't offend me--it had some groovy imagery and a refreshing attempt at originality--but it just couldn't land well for my personal tastes. Too slick for me, but unlike something akin to the F13 remake (which annoyed me when I'm not even a fan of the original), I would never judge someone harshly for liking it.

  7. Alternate title: Dybbuks Stops Here

  8. It has some pretty good moments the dog with the mask is one

  9. Dog with the mask freeky

  10. We need more dogs with masks I say!